Lady beetles may appear cute to the human eye, but in the insect world, they are fearsome predators. Considered by farmers to be a helpful pest control tool, lady beetles are welcome neighbors in Adirondack gardening communities. Nonetheless, there are controversial aspects surrounding these voracious insects. This article will describe the biology and taxonomy of the lady beetles, then discuss the multifaceted roles they play in both human and insect interactions.
Many New Yorkers are familiar with the red, round, and shiny lady beetles, but they may not be aware of the reason why they have their unusual name. In the 1690’s, this insect was named after the Virgin Mary, the “lady” that British farmers would pray to when their crops were afflicted by pests. The red coloration of the insect’s hardened outer wings, known as elytra, reminded them of the red cloak commonly worn by Mary in artwork of the time. In fact, all lady beetles are categorized in the family Coccinellidae, a term drawing its origins from the Latin coccinus, meaning “scarlet.” Many lady beetles are red; however, some are yellow, black, orange, pink, and/or white.